Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ask for a Sign!

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, 2013.  Year A.

I am sure that many of us are looking forward to Christmas finally getting here.   We are out running around – trying to get the last minute gifts, trying to make sure that we haven’t forgotten anyone important.  Worrying that someone might give us something when we haven’t gotten them anything, or that our whole house is going to be a wreck.

And then there are the overarching anxieties that start to come to mind this time of year: will Uncle Bill insist on talking politics during the Christmas meal, will our son get on his soap box again and rile everyone up?  How are we going to deal with the sugar-brained kids or grandkids who are melting down and throwing tantrums?  Is Julie really bringing that problematic boyfriend home from college and what kind of sleeping arrangements are going to work for that?  Will our health hold up to allow us to host or to travel?  And how in the world are we going to pay for all the gifts?

By the time we hit this 4th Sunday of Advent, I think many people are ready to run away to somewhere tropical.  So much Advent craziness.

St. Joseph had some Advent craziness to deal with too.  We hear about it in the Gospel today.  And it was pretty crazy.  This woman – a woman who I would imagine he must have had the utmost respect for, who he must have admired and cherished above most anything - this woman who shared with Joseph a fierce dedication to observing the Law and the teachings of the prophets, whose virtue and religious conviction were unparalleled - this woman who intuitively and freely loved God with her whole heart and followed his promptings with great joy and courage - this woman who God had brought into his life, who he had spoken with at length about starting a family, who would bring their children into this world and raise them with him, and hopefully grow old with him surrounded by their children’s children - this woman who promised Joseph a line of upright and God-fearing descendants and a future full of hope – this woman, Mary, was pregnant, and not by him.

The Gospel is understated.  It says that since Joseph was a righteous man, he decided to divorce her quietly.  But this is a man who must have been reeling!  Not only had his honor been tarnished, not only had he been betrayed – but by such a woman!  A saint!  It must have seemed incomprehensible to him.  Imagine the conversation – how crazy she must have seemed.  An angel?  Emmanuel?  What was she talking about?  He had been courting a lunatic!  How could he not question his every assumption, everything he had previously thought to be true?  To think of having such a woman as his wife?  To call her boy his son?  No.  It was too much.  He could not handle it.  He would not lash out in hatred, but quietly walk in the other direction, leaving the drama, the insanity behind and moving on.

Such was his intention, we hear.  Such was his intention.
It is like Ahaz, who we hear of in our first reading today: overwhelmed.  He can’t figure this out, it is too much. He wants to flee, to run.

Then, out on the highway to the fullers field, Lord sends Isaiah out to meet him with the message, the same message of the angel sent to Joseph: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.”

When our hopes and dreams have fallen to the ground around our feet, when we are overwhelmed by anxieties, when the task before us seems insurmountable and we are ready to flee, to run: it is at this moment that our heavenly Father sends his prophets, his angels, to meet us: “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.”

“Do not abandon my Son when he comes to you hidden within the messy and chaotic circumstances in life.  Hidden within the difficulties of family dynamics, hidden within the financial stresses of generosity, hidden within the dysfunction and difficulty of friendship.”

The angel, the prophet send us home, they tell us not to give in to fear or anxiety, to become discouraged or to loose heart.  God dwells in mystery, his ways are not our ways.  Often he is not born in circumstances that we would expect – in pristine settings of warmth and comfort.  No – he is often born in the dwellings of animals, in dark caves cut into the ground, in the places of last resort.  He is often born in the wake of destroyed hopes and dreams, of circumstances rife with scandal and shame.  He is often born in relationships that have been damaged or grown cold, in families where intimacy seems lost.

“Ask for a sign!” Isaiah tells us, “Ask for a sign!”  “Let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!”  Do not weary the Lord with your running.  Do not let your anxieties drag you away.  Christ waits to be born among you, in your home, in your marriage, in your family, in your friendships.  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

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